Monday, December 24, 2012

Excuse me?! Bing Crosby and WHO??!!

OK, right off the bat, I had my reasons for the search; on the other hand, I have the right to remain silent as to what they were.  Luckily for us, iTunes comes through loud and clear in Colombia.  
Now, sure, you've got the Vienna Boys' Choir, 
and you've got the country version,
and he was Cuban-born, so Jose Feliciano did it Latino-style.
However, as I searched in to the distant, fuzzy edges of iTunes, I felt myself sliding in to a different dimensional reality.  The Klezmonauts?  On "Oy to the World?"  Really?  "The Little Drummer Boy??!!"
And then it got weird.  While The Tabernacle Choir tried to reach me through the time-space warp, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Tesh and Celtic Thunder flashed by, all singing about the young fellow and his rhythmic offering.
As the versions of "The Little Drummer Boy" passed 2,000 (I am not making that up), the numbers on the iTunes meter began to blur as they scrolled faster and faster.  Suddenly, through the purplish haze, I could hear the guitar wailing.  "No, no!" I cried out.
Then, all became silent.  As in a dream, the sound rose from a whisper, gradually rising to an unearthly duet.  "It couldn't be..." I thought.  "No, really, it shouldn't be!"
And yet it was! 
This part, I am not making up either.  It was David Bowie and Bing Crosby, same song, complete with a reference to a video of the same unholy mashup.
I backed slowly away from the computer, then ran to the fuse box and threw the circuit breaker.  Just in time!  The world stopped spinning and came to a shuddering halt.  It was still Christmas Eve!  I had a chance to repent and look for something else on iTunes!
We hope that your Christmas Eve is going better than this, and that, with family gathered about, you have a Merry and warm Christmas.
Dave & Paula

Thursday, December 20, 2012


First of all, let me state that I have no desire whatsoever to be mayor of Bogotá, an unruly, sprawling megalopolis of 13 million people.  They probably wouldn't vote for an aging gringo anyway.
But they did vote for Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M-19 urban guerrilla group, which group laid down their arms and decided to join the political process in the 90's.
While Petro has definite left-leaning tendencies, he is also considered a progressive, and in a lot of ways is trying to shove Bogotá screaming and kicking in to the mainstream of the modern world.
However, the trash pick-up companies of the city dug in their heels at his plan to municipalize them, attempting to turn their employees in to city workers.  Their tactic was simple, predictable and smelled pretty bad.
The other part of the mayor's plan was to institute recycling, whether you want it or not.  However, the plan didn't include the trucks needed or other infrastructure, just the decree.
There are approximately 11,000 'recicladores,' or folks who make their living off of doing just what Mayor Petro is trying to get Bogotanos to do by his mandate - separating their recyclables from other garbage.  They make the rounds of the garbage containers in town and load their horse carts,
and push carts,
and search the nooks and crannies,
and in the end do a remarkably efficient job at turning in recyclables, while eking out an admittedly tough living.
In the end, with the garbage quickly piling up, the trash fight ended by the mayor returning things to their previous state, but with the vow to keep trying.
One commentary read, "The recycling plan looks doomed to failure, not only because Bogotanos just aren't used to separating their trash [themselves], [but they] aren't used to following government instructions."  Bogotanos??!!  NO!!
We hope that your trash (and your recyclables) are moving along at the proper pace.
Dave & Paula

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How do YOU spell "Hippy-Hoppa?"

Apparently, there are two ways to write the name of this surprisingly pleasant medium-sized town in northwest Ecuador, which we briefly visited to check on a missionary.  The first is the more common:
The second is more interesting and certainly less pronounceable.
We also found the inspiration for any anthropomorphic (person-like) trees in the Ceibo pronounced "Say-bo" for all you Jipijapans, which is the official national tree.  We would suppose that the Ecuadorian countryside gets downright spooky on a full moon when these guys start walking around.
Our visits to the missionaries brought us to the seaside town of Bahía ("Bay") where we spent a pleasant night in a near-abandoned hotel, and squeezed in a walk on the beach before night fell.
Back in Guayaquil, we had the honor of presenting the usual, scintillating PowerPoints (see "GI Distress, Ingrown Toenails; gross presentations concerning") to the missionaries in that city.  However, the missionaries were rescued from sheer PowerPoint boredom by the fact that it's Christmas.
The missionaries had a good time with their presentations, and visiting with each other and their great Mission President and his wife.
We were also able to attend the beautiful Guayaquil Temple with the group.  And yes, I have sunscreen on that bald head.  They don't call it Ecuador ("Equator") for nothing.
So, we're back in good-old chilly, rainy Bogotá, trying to ignore the guys banging and chipping on the roof.  It was a rich and instructive trip and luckily, the missionaries are doing well health-wise.
We hope that your trees don't start walking around.  Too much.
Dave & Paula

Saturday, December 8, 2012

OK, take one city off the "have to see" list

We are once again on the road, this time to help chase down contacts of a sick missionary with a communicable disease and have them all tested.  This has brought us to Portoviejo, Ecuador, which as you're aware, is known as "The City of the Royal Tamarind Trees," though looking out the window, I can't see one for the life of me.
So, we flew to Guayaquil, stayed overnight with the Mission President, then got on the bus to Portoviejo.  Paula had to make sure that the curtains were straight. 
The two young missionary Assistants to the President, didn't seem as worried about the whole curtain-straight thing.
I must say that the four-hour bus ride was enchanting.  I must say that or the Ecuadorian Department of Tourism will revoke my visa.  Actually, it was not, and the violent (and most likely pirated) DVD of some regrettable export of American culture that was playing on the bus wasn't either. 
Portoviejo has had some tough times, but is coming back as a center of agriculture for the region. How can you not like a place with an angel guarding the local mall?
 We gathered up those who had some risk, and told them about what they had to do.  This picture was taken BEFORE they were informed.
 We guarded the exits at the clinic.
Everyone survived, with strict instructions to not go into too gory details in their weekly letter home to their mother.
So, what do you do in Portoviejo while waiting for results?  Well, you can hang out at La Casa Del Guardafango, or 'The House of the Mudflap.'
Or head across the street from our hotel with your squeaky moto to La Esquina del Lubricante, or 'Lubrication Corner.'
Or (duh!) you catch up on your sleep!
We hope that your test results come back negative, also.  
And by the way, sadly for the Portoviejo tourism folks, you can probably drop if from the list.
Dave & Paula

Friday, November 30, 2012

News Flash: Paula attacks Bogotá taxista!

I am sooo glad to not own a car here in Bogotá, making me one of the 85% of the 13 million  folks in town who depend on their feet, the buses, the TransMilenio and, of course, the taxis.
At last count, there are 40,000 of the little yellow beasts here, which number is controlled by the ownership of a cupo, the city's permission to drive maniacally, creatively make lanes where they don't exist, honk the horn continuously, and do it all cheerfully while counseling your passengers on how to avoid bad taxi drivers.  All for a controlled, and lousy fee.  And by the way, most drive for 12 hours a day, 6 days per week.  And by the way #2, the cupo now is bought and sold for around 75 million pesos, or about $40,000.00 US, which is about four times the cost of the little yellow beast itself.  
When I ask them, the average tenure of the taxi driver is about 8 years, ranging from zero to 37.  We found the zero yesterday.   
A disgruntled previous passenger warned us as he disembarked, "He doesn't know where he is."
Surely, we thought, a taxi driver?  Not know where he is?  Pfff!
He didn't have a Bogotá clue.  We were in no particular hurry, I remembered the first day on many jobs, and I had sympathy for a fellow newbie and human being.
But no, not a clue did he possess.  When I directed him to head generally toward the left, he made for the right, finally completing a giant circle, all the while the meter ticking off its digital accounting.  
When we finally arrived, the charitable feelings were about shot.  I asked what the fare would be, and without even looking at the fare card, he answered "ten mil pesos."
OK, I admit it.  This is only a representation of the actual event.  I was too busy trying to grab Paula's hands as they went for the guy's neck, and I couldn't reach the camera.  I don't know what the penalty here in Colombia is for assault with intent to kill , but I wasn't about to find out.
I tossed the guy five mil pesos, which was about 20% over what it should have been and departed the vehicle.  A couple of buckets of cold water over her head, and Paula was like brand new.  
We hope that your taxi drivers know where they are, wherever they are.
Dave & Paula

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving?! OK, so I'm thankful for drugs.

Thanksgiving has a long and fabricated history in the United States.
It's all based on a single letter by a guy describing a three-day harvest gorge, in which the newcomers and the locals ate as much as they could from the fall surplus before it all spoiled.  Someone rhapsodized about it in 1821, Lincoln made it official in 1862, and the rest is, you know, bad for the turkeys, great for commerce and family gatherings.
Here in Colombia, with its interesting history, folks are usually just thankful to be alive and have some arepas on the table, much less the repast portrayed above.  Also, there are already 20 (that's two-zero) official national holidays, most pegged to a religious occurrence or personage about whom no one remembers or cares, but hey, it's a day off.  
So, how did we celebrate Thanksgiving?
With a Colombian colonoscopy, of course!  Duh!!
That picture, of a TV celebrity having his American colonoscopy, and I'll bet it wasn't on Thanksgiving, has gotta be fake.  The guy is awake, everyone is having fun, etc.
Anyway, for reasons that will become clear later (nothing bad, never fear), I needed to have it done, it was all normal, and since you'll probably (remember, "never say never 'bout nothin'") have a colonoscopy in Bogotá, we'll leave it at that.  I'll just say that I'm thankful for drugs.
Next year, I think I'll have, hmmm, a root canal!!
May your holidays go better than that.
Dave & Paula

Addendum:  OK, I've got to be fair.  We got together with some other gringos the previous Monday and had turkey.  Now that's off my conscience.  Second thought, next year maybe I'll do hair transplants.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Through the teeth, over the gums, look out stomach...Hey!! Did that ant just move??!!

We knew that the Morenos were coming over, and we finally, really had to eat the ants.
So, who was going eat an ant first?  Many such important decisions are made with a coin toss.
This one was made in a far more democratic, reasonable way.  It was my camera, so she had to go first.
I tried to be encouraging.  "Gallina!  Gallina!"  ("Chicken!  Chicken!")
 Her sense of adventure just stuck out all over.
 You could almost feel her expectation of gustatory delight.
And then it was over.  A few tentative crunches, and "Ah, they're not that bad.  OK, Big Guy, you're up!"
Being the man, I of course had to show the stony machismo that I was made of.
 OK, they really weren't that bad.  Kind of like crunchy small popcorn.  With antennae.  And legs.
 I survived!  Of course, I knew all along I would.
Whew!  We told the Morenos with a straight face that we had downed the crispy little critters, and they were so delighted they promised to bring us more!
We hope that you get to try something new today also.
Dave & Paula

Monday, November 12, 2012

One of these days, we have to eat these ants.

Culona ants, that is.  Great big suckers that are fried and munched in the Santender district (state) of Colombia, and are considered a real delicacy.  
As luck would have it, the nice adult missionary couple from Bucaramanga brought some back for us.  "Gee, whiz!  Thanks!  We'll, uh, have to try those."
And so, they have sat guiltily for a couple of weeks (do ants get better if they're aged?).
Unfortunately, the Morenos are being sent to San Gil next week, so we really, really have to eat these ants so that we can give them an honest answer.  
We hope that your neighbors aren't from someplace where they eat bumble bees.  Or slugs or something.   
Dave & Paula

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Shopleaving - is it really a crime?

I've never shoplifted anything.  Really.  A couple of months ago, we hung some curtain rods, and ended up with an extra sealed package of ceiling-hanger thingies.  By the time we got around to taking them back to the Home Center store (no, that's not a translation, it's just Home Center), it wasn't worth printing out the receipt from the scanned files and standing in line at the service desk and then embarrassing myself with my Spanish and giving the clerk another reason to laugh at the old gringos.
we just put them back.  
Now, we're guilty of shopleaving.  Some guy in the Inventory Department is going to sweat reconciling the numbers when it comes out that they have one too many packs of gold curtain rod hanger thingies.
We hope you don't get caught, either.
Dave & Paula

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Quito?! Neato!!

The 25 Mission Presidents in the South America Northwest (or was it the North America Southwest?) Area meet twice a year for instruction, and to briefly catch their breath.  This fall the meeting was held in Quito, Ecuador, this being a central location for Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela, the five countries that comprise the Area. 
I am kindly included along with the other Area Medical Advisor in Lima, because, uh, well, because the Handbook of Instructions says that we're supposed to be included.  So there.
Actually, it gave me a chance to speak briefly to the whole group, and to touch bases with all of "my" Mission Presidents, and more importantly, their wives, with whom I interact frequently.
We're in there, in the back somewhere, in the Not Really a Mission President row.  
Most of the three days were taken up in instruction.  However, that didn't preclude taking advantage of the hotel's nice exercise facilities.
Or the nice pool, though it had to be early morning.  And yes, that's a shower cap.  And yes, I'll probably pay for publishing that picture.
One day we were able to see a few sights, including the Equator in Ecuador, and yes, that's why it's named that way.
 However, I was not allowed to buy a "Zero Latitude - Zero Attitude" t-shirt.  Bummer.
The llama visit was de rigueur.
All in all, an enriching seminar and visit in a beautiful place.
We hope that you are doing well, and can find a better looking bathing cap than that.
Dave & Paula